‘The Maia Choirs ’
The story begins in 1902 with Thomas Kay, a chemist from Lancashire who came to Stockport in 1859 with his brother Samuel, to establish a firm of manufacturing chemists. With the firm well on its way to success he began to take an interest in public life and later became a JP and Mayor of the town.
Thomas Kay was a man of considerable artistic talent and was keen to see the arts being promoted and developed in young people. His interest in music led him to establish a scheme of tuition using voice training and theory to develop these gifts. Membership of Singing Classes and the successful completion of an examination led to membership of the Maia Choirs. These choirs provided choral singing opportunities for young people who later became adult members of the choirs thus confirming that singing is an activity for life.
To set up the scheme, two female pupils from each school in the town were auditioned to receive a scholarship to join the Singing Class under Mr T Darman Ward, secretary of the scheme, Mr William Sidebotham, who taught theory and Miss Bertha Guthrie, who taught voice production and singing. Those awarded a scholarship were presented with a gold half-sovereign.
Two classes a week were held in Room 8 in the Stockport Mechanics Institute on Monday and Thursday evenings.
By 1903 Mr Kay formed the first Maia Choir, using the name of the Greek Goddess Maia after whom the fifth month of the year is named. Each year the choirs would present an annual concert in May – whenever possible, and so began a tradition. Certificates and prizes were presented at the concert and said Thomas Kay that ‘The voice was the greatest charm that any human could possess…………’
The scheme was later extended to include boys and the Maia Chorus was formed. This was ‘fed’ in successive years by graduates from the training classes and the choirs.
Thomas Kay died in September 1914 and left a bequest in the hands of the Sir Ralph Pendlebury Charity for the governors to administer for the upkeep of the choirs.
In the same year World War 1 brought its own problems for the Maia as the young men were called away to fight and the need to re – organise the classes and choirs which became all female; a far cry from what Thomas Kay had intended in 1903.
In 1920 the Thomas Kay Bequest, classes and choirs were put into the hands of a committee appointed by the Ralph Pendlebury Charity to be known as the Stockport Children’s Musical Education Committee. The Director of Music from 1920 – 1929, Dr Keighley, reported to a meeting that boys should be included again as soon as possible. The classes and choirs moved their training and rehearsals to Pendlebury Hall on Lancashire Hill.
Concerts were held at locations throughout the town and from 1910 the Annual Concert took place the Centenary Hall – sadly now demolished. The Annual Concerts took place over two evenings and were well supported with all the members of the Stockport Children’s Musical Education Committee attending.
In 1929 Dr Harold Dawber became the Director of Music assisted by Miss Beryl Dallen and Dr Laurence West. Over the next 30 years the standard of choral singing developed and the classes and choirs received accolades for outstanding performances and radio broadcasts with the BBC Northern Orchestra under Charles Groves. Soloists included Kathleen Ferrier, Marjorie Thomas, Richard Lewis and Pamela Bowden.
in the early 1950s the Maia Junior Girls Choir under the leadership of Beryl Dallen, won the prestigious first prize at the Llangollen International Festival in North Wales in the age group fifteen to twenty five. Following their success the choir sang two of the three pieces on BBC Northern programme “Children Singing ” and also had a glowing write up in the local paper. The choir were invited to attend the Mayor’s Ball as guests of honour.
In 1945 Geoffrey Barber took charge of the boy’s classes and a little later formed the Maia Boys’ Choir of which he became the conductor. In 1957 he was appointed as the Director of Music as successor to the late Harold Dawber and 1959 he was joined by Ronald Frost who took over the Maia Boys’ Choir in order for Mr Barber to conduct the Maia Chorus.
In 1960 a further re-organisation took place providing classes for boys and girls, with choirs for both, and the Maia Chorus as the culminating choral unit of the Maia scheme.
After almost 17 years, Geoffrey Barber retired in 1962 and the post of Director of Music was taken up by Miss Edna Jamieson, a Music Mistress at Stockport High School for Girls and teacher to the Maia classes since 1954. The Boys Choir was conducted by David Price and then by Eric Warrington. Joyce Ellis was conductor of the Girls Choir with Jennifer Shepley accompanist. Edna Jamieson’s work had a significant effect on the Maia Choirs. Not only did she achieve high standards of performance but she encouraged her singers to see beyond performance and to value being part of an organisation that encouraged a framework of discipline that would last for life. It is hardly surprising that members of Edna Jamieson’s choirs continue to play such an important part in the life of the choir. The Maia Administrator (Lynda Whitney), a former conductor (Elizabeth Ward) and many members of the Maia Singers
In 1973 John Pomphrey was appointed Director of Music having been conductor of the Junior and Senior Boys Choirs since 1970. The development of the Boys Choir and Ladies Choir at this time led to the natural creation of a mixed voice choir, the Senior Choir – later to be called the Maia Singers when the Junior, Intermediate, Senior and Boys Choirs became The Stockport Youth Choirs.
Records of the last 30 years are obviously more accessible and help recalling performances and activities by the Stockport Youth Choir and the Maia Singers such as:
- The production of the first LP that included a performance of Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo (Soloists Joyce Ellis, Roy Bowden, Bryn Tootell, Michael Birch)
- Commissioning The Maia Canticles from composer Douglas Coombes and performances on Radio Manchester, Stockport Town Hall
- Broadcasts on BBC Schools – Singing Together programmes
- Participation in the first Sainsbury Choir of the Year Competition at the Royal Albert Hall
- Concert visit to Beziers – Stockport’s French twin town and the reciprocal visit to Stockport
- The appointment of Dame Isobel Baillie as President of the Choirs
- The production of an LP that included The Maia Canticles by Douglas Coombes
- Sing Christmas, our annual Christmas concerts introduced by guest presenters including Tina Heath and John Noakes from BBC’s Blue Peter; Johnny Morris; Marian Foster; Alan Rothwell; Brian Redhead and Brian Trueman
- The Annual Concerts featuring specially commissioned music for children and adult choirs by Douglas Coombes; Geoffrey Brace; Donald Swann, John Coates
- The appointment of Donald Swann as President of the Choirs and performances with him at the Royal Northern College of Music and Kendal Parish Church
- Concerts for Charities such as Save the Children, St. Ann’s Hospice and Beechwood Cancer Care.
- Open Singing Days that have included Britten’s St. Nicholas with soloists Ian Partridge and Paul Nilon; William Mathias’s Jonah and John Gardner’s ‘A Burn’s Sequence
- Concert visits to Heilbronn, Stockport Twin Town and reciprocal visits to Stockport
- The production of two cassettes SING CHRISTMAS (1982 and 1989) with the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra under Robert Chasey
- Broadcast recordings for Radio 3’s Advent Carol series
- Taking part in one of the first concerts from the Bridgewater Hall with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, filmed and broadcast for two Songs of Praise programmes
- Participation in the St. Ann’s Hospice’s annual Christmas Concert at the Bridgewater Hall each year since 1998
- Receiving support under the Developing Musical Life scheme supported by the Arts Council and BT via NFMS
- A live broadcast for BBC 1 from Lyme Hall with presenter Pam Rhodes
- Carols by Candlelight – a presentation of words and music for Christmas by the Maia Singers with Delia Corrie and Alan Rothwell at St. George’s Church
- Carols by Candlelight – a CD produced featuring the Maia Singers and Stockport Youth Choir
- Concerts at the Whitworth Art Gallery with Delia Corrie and Charles Foster
- Recordings by the Youth Choir and the Maia Singers for Granada Television’s programme ‘My Favourite Hymns’
- A live broadcast for Granada TV from St Walburge’s Church, Preston of a special Multi Faith Peace Service
- The 100th Annual Concert at Stockport Town Hall on 15th June 2003
- Various Music festivals including: Harrogate and Derby
The preparing and performing of the countless choral items that have been presented over the years relies on the skill and dedication of those who train, conduct and accompany the choirs. During the last 33 years they have included Joyce Ellis, Lynda Rhodes, Patrick Broderick, Jackson Towers, Audrey Jones, Diane Povey, Susan Amos, Mary Hoult, Helen Stringer, Chris Cotton, Roger Briscoe, Andrew Rees, Stuart Battye, Imelda Leah, Christine Nelson, Elizabeth Ward, Jill Henderson-Wild, Susan Porter, Jennifer Shepley, Marjorie Cole, Judith Cole, Christine Oldham, Dianne Richards, Katherine Bramley, Judith Inge, Nichola Morgan, Catherine Smith, Ruth Cole, Jonathan Bramwell, Martyn Shaw and Ian Tate.